Back in 1996 a young woman changed the way we play platform games forever. With her sexy pixel curves and her dual wielding pistols she took the PS1 by storm. Now we move forward 17 years and Tomb Raider is back and back in style. But is Tomb Raider just overblown hype or does it have the legs to relaunch a gaming franchise that in my opinion had lost its way? Well as this review will inform you, Tomb Raider is a tale of two halves.
For me, like many reading this review, Tomb Raider has been part of our game collections for the past 17 years. From the early days on the PS1 with the twitchy clunky controls (without analog control) to the various updates or relaunches during which we have stressed at mind boggling puzzles and tried to make that one jump over and over again only to see Lara fall to her death.
When Tomb Raider was announced and demoed at E3 2011 I was one of the many who thought yeah it looks cool but it will be the same old game, the same game I have played 100s of times and a franchise to be honest that I didn’t really care for anymore.
With the above in my mind and at 9am on Tuesday 5th March 2013 I placed Tomb Raider into my XBOX 360 and fired it up. I was expecting to fly through the campaign within a couple of hours and write a 500-600 word review telling the world how much this once great but out dated franchise needs to be put to rest. How wrong I was…
TOMB RAIDER: A Tale Of Two Games
Tomb Raider starts aboard the ill fated research vessel Endurance with a young Lara and her companions searching for the lost kingdom of Yamatai. Like any game or movie everything doesn’t go to plan and you soon find yourself shipwrecked and washed ashore on a strange island that could have be taken straight out of a series from LOST.
What is obvious from the start is how vulnerable Lara is. She is not the Lara from the other games, she starts out timid, withdrawn and not the great adventurer we know from past outings. To cut a long story short and trying not to give anything away from the story you get captured and separated from the rest of your party who have also been washed ashore on this strange island.
Over the course of the next 10 – 15 hours (Gameplay Time) you must fight for your life and the lives of your comrades. You will witness Lara grow from a timid and naive girl into a woman of strength both mentally and physically.
Tomb Raider relies very heavily on the story line but unlike some games it is perfectly paced; the cutscenes don’t feel like you have been taken away from the gameplay and are just the right length to suck you in and wanting more. You will also never see a loading screen which was really surprising considering how big the Island is and the amount of areas you get to explore. The loading is done in the background behind the story driven cutscenes but not once did I feel I wanted to skip the cutscene and get on with the game.
Tomb Raider does have some quicktime events, (anyone who knows me or as read any of my reviews in the past will know how much I hate these events), and for me quick time events take the player out of the game and force you into the hands of the developer. In Tomb Raider this is not true, the quicktime events are relevant and thankfully are few and far between. I did die a couple of times because I pressed the wrong button in the heat of the event and yes it did piss me off at the time but thankfully the quicktime events are short and only involve a quick shake of the left analog stick and a couple of well timed button presses.
Each area on the island is broken down into parts and the idea is to get from A – B but you never once feel like you’re on rails. The areas are massive with tons to explore and side quests to complete. Each area will have a Treasure map or Tomb to raid. Once you have the treasure map or you have completed the tomb in the area your overview map will be updated with the location of all the collectables in the area making finding them a little easier. I say a little easier because it only gives you a rough location and it’s still up to you to search high and low to find your loot. Once you are in a rough area of said loot you can use your Instinct by pressing LB, this turns the area Black and White and anything of interest will glow Gold for a few seconds. You can also use your Instinct when stuck and not sure of your route, again all lodges or climbing walls will be highlighted letting you plan you ascent or descent.
The control system in Tomb Raider is perfect and there was never one point where I felt uneasy with the layout. I remember the old days of Tomb Raider on PS1, the days before Analog Sticks where you would have to line Lara up pixel perfect before attempting a jump that 9/10 related in your death. Well those days have long gone. Lara along with her trusted climbing Axe and Bow and rope can now reach any level with ease. I am not however saying the game is easy but that the developers have really focused on making the game as playable and accessible as possible without breaking the game.
The controls within combat are also perfect and straight forward, pull the left trigger to activate your chosen weapon and right trigger to fire. You can select different weapons using the 4 points on the D-pad and within each weapon is different fire modes or ammo you can use. For example: press UP on the D-Pad to select the bow, within the bow you have 2 different arrow types you can fire (standard and flaming). Once the bow is selected, by pressing up on the D-Pad, all you need to do is press up again to switch between the different arrows. This applies to most of the other weapons you collect and upgrade throughout your quest.
The upgrade system for both weapons and Lara is broken down into 2 easy to use sub-menus that you activate by visiting one of the many mini camping spots. Throughout your quest you will collect XP or salvage parts from the many shipwrecked crates you find lying around the island which can then be spent on upgrading your weapons or Lara’s abilities. The ability to upgrade Lara how you see fit gives you more of a connection to her. Maybe you want to be the hunter and work on stealth kills or perhaps you would rather be the explorer and upgrade Lara’s climbing skills; the choice is yours.
Overall the single player mode is near on perfect, the story had me gripped for over 10 hours, I had a connection to a video game character that I have never experienced before, the controls are well thought out and the graphics are the best I have seen on the aging XBOX 360. So why a Tale Of Two Halves? Well for the first time ever you can now take Tomb Raider online and play multiplayer.
Tomb Raider Multiplayer: WTF Happened
After completing the single player mode I wanted more and couldn’t wait to get online and experience a 3rd person shooter set in the beautiful locations from the game with the near perfect combat system from the single player game.
Tomb Raider Online has 4 game modes, 3 team based and a free for all. Rescue and Cry for Help are both objective based games and will need players to work together to complete objectives. The idea in Team Death Match is simply to kill the opposing team more times then they kill yours.
So it all sounds fun so far right? Well it’s not. The beautiful graphics from the single player are now dull, the game has super long loading times, all modes are best of three and for some reason you return to a loading screen after each round that seem to take ages, the controls are clunky and the weapons are not balanced.
For me this game is all about the single player mode. The multiplayer feels like a bolt on to please the masses however considering the poor quality of the multiplayer mode I do not think that it is going to please many. I can honestly say that I couldn’t wait for my first game of Cry for Help to finish so I could go back to the excellent single player mode and find the treasure that I was still missing.
I really hope that we see DLC for the single player mode of Tomb Raider; as I was writing this review news came in that Multiplayer DLC is inbound. I can honestly say that multiplayer mode feels rushed and unfinished. It is one of the worst multiplayer modes I have ever played and there are a lot of cheap XBLA 3rd and 1st person shooters that put this mode to shame.
My 9/10 score is only based on the single player mode. If I was to score the whole product including the Multiplayer I would have to give the game 5/10 which really is not fair to the excellent single player game.